This article originally appeared in the National Journal.
In 2009, the federal government fined ExxonMobil $600,000 for the unintentional deaths of 85 birds in five states during a five-year period.
Meanwhile, well over 500,000 birds and countless bats are killed annually by wind turbines, according to the US Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS) and other experts. The slaughter “could easily be over 500” golden eagles a year in our western states, says Save the Eagles International biologist Jim Wiegand.
Bald eagles are also being butchered. The two species body count could soon reach 1,000-per-year.
Supposedly “eco-friendly” wind turbines are sending some of America’s most important and majestic sovereigns of our skies to the edge of extinction: eagles, hawks, falcons, owls, whooping cranes, condors, herons, egrets, snow geese, bats that protect crops by eating insects, and many more.
And yet, in the course of three decades, the government has never prosecuted or penalized a single wind turbine company for this rampant, widespread and growing eco-slaughter. Instead, it subsidizes the slaughter – to the tune of $22-per-megawatt via the wind energy production tax credit (PTC) alone, plus additional state and federal financial assistance, without which the industry would not survive.
One could accurately say wind turbines represent the only truly shovel-ready projects on the Obama Administration energy agenda – with wind project operators employing “slice, shovel and shut up” tactics to help hide the evidence of how extensive the slaughter has actually become.
With Congress preparing to vote on extending the PTC yet again, it is time to assess how worthless wind energy actually is for generating electricity – and how destructive it is of vital wildlife species.
Industrial wind energy fails every test for judging sensible, responsible, sustainable energy policies. It requires perpetual subsidies to survive. By taking tax revenues from productive sectors of the economy, to generate expensive, unreliable electricity, it kills two to four jobs for every “green” job created. Turbines harm people’s health and well-being and lower property values of nearby homes.
Big Wind requires vast land and raw materials for turbines, transmission lines and mostly natural gas-fired backup generators. Mining and processing rare earth metals for turbine magnets devastates agricultural and wildlife habitat areas and severely harms human health in China, where most of the “green” turbine manufacturing jobs are actually created.
Wind is equally worthless for preventing “dangerous” climate change. Backup fossil fuel generators must run on standby constantly – and full-bore 70-80% of the time, when the wind isn’t blowing at required speeds – emitting carbon dioxide every minute. Manufacturing all the concrete, steel, copper, fiberglass and other components of turbine blades, towers and power systems, transmission lines and towers, and backup generators also requires voluminous hydrocarbon fuels and emits gigatons of carbon dioxide.
Meanwhile, China, India and other developing countries are burning coal (and emitting CO2) at ever-increasing rates, to generate electricity and improved living standards for their people.
But the bird and bat butchery is the most unconscionable and unsustainable aspect of wind pseudo-power.
In the 86-square-mile area blanketed by California’s Altamont Pass wind turbines, no eagles have nested for over 20 years, and golden eagle nest sites have declined by half in surrounding areas, even though both are prime eagle habitat, Wiegand notes. Wildlife expert Dr. Shawn Smallwood estimates that 2,300 golden eagles have been killed by Altamont turbines over the past 25 years.
The wind industry keeps the publicly acknowledged death toll “acceptable” by having crews: search around turbines that are not operating; search only areas close to turbines, deliberately missing birds that were flung further by the impact or limped off to die elsewhere; search for carcasses only every 2-4 weeks, allowing coyotes, vultures and other scavengers to carry most evidence away; not count disabled or wounded birds and bats; and remove carcasses under “slice, shovel and shut up” guidelines.
These “deliberately flawed” methodologies are compounded by turbine site security that makes independent investigations almost impossible, adds American Bird Conservancy analyst Kelly Fuller. Amazingly, Fish & Wildlife does not require that even the low-balled raw data be made public, and what little does get released is often further filtered, massaged and manipulated.
The FWS turns a blind eye to all of this. Now it is going much further.
It wants to grant “programmatic take” permits, allowing turbine operators to repeatedly, systematically and “inadvertently” injure, maim and kill bald and golden eagles, without fear of penalty – turning what has been outrageously selective (non)enforcement of bird protection laws into a 007 license to kill. While the new rule is “not specifically designed” for the wind industry, it will be by far the biggest beneficiary.
The FWS says it can do this based on illusory “advanced conservation practices” that are “scientifically supportable” and “represent the best available techniques to reduce eagle disturbance and ongoing mortalities to a level where remaining take is unavoidable and incidental to otherwise lawful activity.” The Service also claims “mitigation” and other “additional” measures may be implemented where necessary to “ensure the preservation” of eagles as a species. What bunk.
When it wants to restrict development, the FWS defines species, subspecies or “distinct population segments” for sage grouse and other wildlife – or labels a species “imperiled” in a selected location, even when it is abundant in nearby locations. With eagles, the proposed “take” rules strongly suggest that the Service could easily claim the presence of eagles in some parts of the Lower 48 States or even just Alaska would ensure their “preservation,” even if they are exterminated or driven from numerous habitats.
Attempts to “mitigate” impacts or establish new population segments will mean imposing extra burdens, restrictions and costs on land owners and users outside of turbine-impact areas. Nor are only eagles affected.
Endangered whooping cranes are also being “sliced” back to the verge of extinction. Since 2006, installed turbine capacity within the six-state whooping crane flyway has skyrocketed from 3,600 megawatts to 16,000 MW (some 8,000 turbines) – and several hundred tagged and numbered whooping cranes “have turned up missing and are unaccounted for,” says Wiegand.
Incredibly, another 136,700 MW of new bird Cuisinarts (some 55,000) are planned for these six states! “The whooping cranes will be gone within 5 years,” Wiegand is convinced. “By then there will be so many turbines with so much rotor sweep, it will be impossible for them to survive.”
How can the American people allow this to happen? And do it for such an expensive, unreliable, harmful and worthless energy source? The crony corporatism and vote buying need to end.
Voting to extend the PTC, or allow wind turbines in or near important bird habitats and flyways, brings the ultimate extinction of majestic and vital species closer to reality in locations all over the United States.
No members of Congress should want that on their conscience. No Americans should tolerate it.
Craig Rucker serves as the executive director of the Committee For A Constructive Tomorrow; Paul Driessen is CFACT’s senior policy advisor and author of Eco-Imperialism: Green power – Black death.